The Classical Han Dynasty

The Han period was called the classical time of China because of their music, poetry, and their Confucian beliefs. According to definitions. Net classical means “of or relating to the most highly developed stage of an earlier civilization and its culture.” The Han dynasty was this time for China. People today are still proud to call themselves the “people of Han”. (New world Encyclopedia) The Han dynasty was the Eastern world’s equivalent of the Western world’s Rome.

The Chinese are one of the oldest civilizations in the world, but they are also the first people in history to create an actual musical scale. One of the main organizing principles of the Chinese music scale are centered around the minor third and major sixth intervals. The preference for those specific intervals mask the semitones of the Chinese scale which gives it that very distinctive tone that is often difficult to discern for those of us in the western world. Chinese musical compositions also utilize a system of intervals, built upon both thirds and fourths. ( Therefore we can assume that much of the worlds music to come after this was based loosely upon the Chinese ideals. This gives the music of China, especially that of the Han dynasty the classification of “classical”.

The ancient Chinese defined a series of 12 frequencies called the “lü-lü”. Various sets of five, or six, or seven frequencies, pentatonic and heptatonic tones, created from these frequencies were selected to make the major scale familiar to our own ears. Chinese aesthetics prefers to use intervals rather than scales. These 12 “lü”are approximate to the frequencies we know as F, G flat, G, E flat, and E. (Worner, K) The Chinese system of tuning includes the closest tones to the “just” intervals. In music, just intonation is any musical tuning in which the frequencies of notes are related by ratios of small whole numbers. Any interval tuned in this way is called a just interval. (Wikipedia, “just intonation”)
Typically, most Chinese melodies are based on an octave of five notes. Even though sets of seven notes that we know of as Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti & (Do) were used extensively at one point in china. These and their influence are responsible for the scales we use in western music today. (Hook, B)

Art music was the central portion of the Chinese musical system. Courtesan and dance music as an art form were a very minor part of the times philosophical mainstream. Classical music in the Chinese lifestyle was at its peak during the reign of Ji Kang (223-262 CE) at the end of the Han Dynasty. Ji Kang was one of the foremost poets, musicians & philosophers of this time. Many of his compositions are still studied today. (

Chinese classical music slowly faded towards the end of the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), and throughout the later eras, except for an extended period during the Tang period.

The Han invented and made up many tools and other forms of human communications. One of the reasons it was called classical is because of its literature and advancements in writing. The Chinese invented paper which is one of the greatest inventions known to man. The Han poetry was simplistic and refined and the Han culture expressed humanism and common sense when they wrote their poetry.

Chinese poetry also took the form of hymns and ritual songs accompanied by lute and other string instruments. Chinese poetry was never made to write about epics of heroic poems but wrote to serve as entertainment that was usually read at banquets, showing of affection, or gifts. Han poetry, which takes the form of “prose-poem,” is personal and intimate and not moralizing and eulogistic. Therefore their poetry is not meant to glorify individuals prowess or valorous achievements as it mediates on human experience.

The Han poems are well known for the beauty they poses in each poem that was created. Han poems didn’t necessarily always rhyme and flow but they were always written to make a point or to point something out that the poet felt at the time. One of the very famous poems of the Han culture was the Chu lyrics that evolved into the fu, a poem usually in rhymed verse except for the intro and the conclusion that are in prose. Often in the form of question and answers.

During the Han period Emperor Wu (156-87 BCE)accepted Confucianism as the state ideology of China. The ideals of Confucianism state that all people will be treated with humanity, and that one should act according to their rank. He taught that the five most important relationships are a parent and a child, husband and wife, elder and younger brother, friend to friend, and ruler to subject. Each relationship having a duty to the other.

Confucianism also lead to a state educational system based on the teachings of China’s first philosopher Kung fu-Tzu (551-479 BCE), who’s name translates to Confucius in Latin. Emperor Wu founded the Grand Academy to teach the five Confucius classics which are The Book of Changes, The Book of History, The Book of Songs, The Book of Rites, and The Spring and Autumn Annals.

Confucius is also responsible for the Analects, which was a guide for proper behavior among society. It was his idea that to become an ethical person you must study and practice appropriate behavior. (Moore, J) The basis of ethical behavior are divided into to parts. The Li is the learning of appropriate behavior when engaging in human interaction, while the Ren is the action of a person its self. The Golden rule of Confucianism is “What you do not want to be done to you, do not do to others” (Analects 15:23).

The Han Dynasty was by far China’s most advance civilization. Still to this day some of the Han ideals are still in practice and they remain the greatest Chinese empire the world has ever seen.


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